Why Internships Are Bullshit


A few months after I graduated, I was sitting at home watching YouTube videos of Mary-Kate Olsen trying to speak when I saw that one of my favorite magazines, Interview, was looking for summer interns. “This is your moment, Ryan!” I thought. “Pick up your confidence that you keep locked in that storage unit in Queens and apply, dammit!” So I did it—I drove to Queens, got my confidence out of storage (it had grown considerably since I’d seen it last, thank God), and applied for the internship. A few days after submitting my résumé, I got a response back asking me to come in for an interview at their intimidating office in Soho.

Vibrating with excitement, I picked out my best “I am not disabled; I am NEW YORK MEDIA!” outfit and hightailed it downtown to meet with Grace, one of the editors, for a sit-down chat. Grace seemed nice enough, but she did look a bit worn down. It seemed like this job had stolen her spirit and was keeping it hostage in the cat food aisle at Rite Aid. The way she carried herself and the cadence in her voice gave me the impression that the world was perpetually taking a giant dump on her face—a glamorous, couture dump, but a dump nonetheless. Despite her sad vibes, the two of us got along nicely and I felt confident that I had aced the interview.

When Grace called me a few days later and said that I had gotten the internship, I was overjoyed and then immediately terrified. This wasn’t a touchy-feely “We understand your brain damage!” magazine. It was an avant-garde New York FASHUN publication that represented physical perfection, and here I was, ready to limp all over it.

It only took thirty minutes into my first day at work to realize that, disabled or not, it was going to be nearly impossible to get a real job at the magazine. Grace was giving me a tour of the office (“This is where you cry after a long day,” “This is where you get told you’re a retard by your chic power lesbian boss”) when, all of a sudden, a flustered assistant came rushing up to her.

“Grace, we need a new magazine rack. The ones we have are falling apart!”

“Are you kidding me?” Grace scoffed. “We can’t afford that.”

“Um, they’re, like, five dollars. I’ll just pay for it.” 
“Okay, fine. You pay.”
 The assistant slumped away, and Grace continued on with her tour. “This is the Ping-Pong table that no one ever uses because we’re not allowed to have fun here . . .” (She wasn’t actually saying these things but she might as well have with the way she was delivering the information.) I was shocked. How could this magazine ever afford to hire me if they couldn’t even afford a five-dollar magazine rack? Weren’t magazines supposed to have money? The office might’ve been glamorous and the editor in chief was some globetrotting Anna Wintour–type, but apparently everyone else who worked there was hanging on by a thread—emotionally, spiritually, and financially.

One such person was Hannah, a twenty-four-year-old assistant to the entertainment editor, with whom I worked closely. Since Grace was often crying in a broom closet somewhere, I relied on Hannah to give me things to do. The second I met her, I went into overdrive by sending her pitch after pitch—one of which was a fashion editorial inspired by the Manson family that I don’t think went over well. Hannah was sweet, though. She listened to my ideas and encouraged me to scout new music they could possibly feature in the magazine. I did as I was told, flooding her in-box with weird bands that I thought were going to hit it big and creating mini-bios for each group. Hannah took all of these into consideration and immediately got the vibe that I was a hungry tiger. She was calling me by my nickname “Rye” the second day.

It was important to make my presence known at Interview so I could set myself apart from the other interns—one of whom I swear to God was South African royalty. That always happens at internships. You’re always working with someone who’s an heiress or whose parents are famous. I have no idea why the wealthy even bother interning in the first place. Maybe they’re just looking for ways to kill time before they can marry a wealthy guy named Tad who works in finance and wants to do anal on his birthday.

I was never going to get noticed at Interview for my photocopying abilities, so the only other way to make an impression was to showcase my story ideas. This worked in my favor most of the time until Hannah snapped at me one day and said, “You need to focus less on pitches and fulfill more of your intern duties!” She was absolutely right. I wasn’t really doing any of the typical intern work, but that’s because I was laughably bad at it. She quickly realized this when, after she ordered me to do the thing I feared most—open mail—I spent thirty minutes trying to work the letter opener and ended up ripping the contents of the envelope. Sheepishly, I walked up to Hannah, torn envelope in my hand, and apologized for the mistake. She looked annoyed but, sensing the humiliation that was practically radiating from my pores, she took pity on me. “It’s okay, Rye,” she smiled. “Why don’t you go uptown to Bret Easton Ellis’s hotel and drop off this manuscript for me?”

Despite all evidence to the contrary, I thought that if Hannah called me by my nickname and gave me positive affirmations, I would somehow get a job. But nothing could’ve gotten me a job at Interview. I could’ve been braiding my boss’s hair and married into the family and it still wouldn’t have translated to a paycheck. It wasn’t anything personal against me. There was just no money to go around. The people who were actually salaried usually ended up doing two jobs for little money. In fact, for the three months I was there, the editorial assistant left to go work at another magazine and instead of immediately hiring someone to fill the position, they had an intern do the job for free. At first, the intern was overjoyed. “Yes!” they thought. “This could be my ticket to getting a real job here.” But after months of hard work for no pay, they fired the intern and had someone outside the company fill the position.

As much as I wanted to be offered a job, I left Interview disillusioned with the magazine world. Everyone came here to be a part of something they saw on TV, but the reality didn’t come close to matching up with the fantasy.

Ryan O’Connell has written for Thought Catalog, Vice, Medium, and The New York Times, as well as for MTV’s Awkward. He lives in Los Anjealous. Follow him on Twitter @ryanoconn.

Copyright © 2015 by Ryan O’Connell. From the forthcoming book I’M SPECIAL: AND OTHER LIES WE TELL OURSELVES (PREORDER HERE) by Ryan O’Connell to be published by Simon & Schuster. Printed by permission.